Wednesday, September 17, 2008

He Would Have Shot Me 40 Years Ago - Perspective XI: The Little Things V

O A bus is a bus is a bus - or Gertrude Stein would have said about Vietnam today. And there are a lot of buses, but the #4 is a little one, what you might call a shuttle bus, and although it goes past the airport, this is not the one, one would take to actually get to the airport. It goes much farther than that and generally carries the Vietnamese to their homes after a day of toiling in a low pay job or selling something on the street downtown in District 1. Businessmen do not ride this bus. O And I've yet to see a foreigner, aside from myself on this route. The entire trip from the big station at Ben Thanh Market takes roughly 45 minutes to one hour, depending on the traffic. And it's as efficient a trip through a construction war zone as a skilled driver can make it. The road to the airport is a collection of obstacles from a bazillion motorbikes to large green metal-sheeted barricades in the center, in the midst of a citywide hole digging project for a drainage system, and the odd pedestrian, lady with a cart oVietnam-war, shot-in-the-head, 40-years-ago-I-would-have-shot-you, America, USA, Army, brutality, Bus, Saigon, Ho-Chi-Minh-City, Hanoi, protest, LBJ, Johnson, legacyf chickens or motobike deliveryman transporting large sheets of glass or mirrors with the help of an assistant riding on the back to hold the glass. O The Vietnamese bus of today is the urban equivalent of what an American tank might have been here 40 years ago. They just don't give a shit and dutifully plow through whatever happens to be lying before them. It is an absolute damn sight to behold. These drivers should be given a medal just for surviving a day in this transportation firestorm. And so I board. O Once on the bus the biggest choice is one of seats and considering that I start at the start of the route, I'm happy to have a choice. I choose the copilot's chair right to the right of the driver with a big clear-screen view of the road in front of me and all the chatter that he and his ticket-taker care to banter throughout the trip - and that can be considerable, considering - I'm just a man on a bus going from point A to point B- and not in the market for any more Vietnamese entertainment than the 20 cent ticket entitles me to. Sit your ass down white boy. You must be this tall to get on this ride. O And so I plop down next to the older man who rides shotgun in the furthest right seat. And he immediately says, "hello" with an accent and confidence that makes me immediately understand that he learned his English during the war here, so many, many years ago - an occurrence that is not unusual at all. So as the #4 gets underway we begin to converse, in the kind of small talk that pervades all participants of diverse cultures on the way to finding out what might be common to them both. The old "Where are you from - how long have you been here" questions ensue, peppered by the old pleasantry or linguistic peace offering. "Thank you", I say to him in response to a compliment about New York. "Interesting", I say to him in my response to his telling of a French proverb that roughly translates into "You can't take it with you". His name is Hanh and he has told me that he is 73 years old. And he is quite obviously not wealthy. He clutches a plastic shopping bag that I see is full of VCDs, the old cheap Chinese equivalent of a DVD, no longer a medium of use today to even the most basic Vietnamese. And he opens his bag. He presents to me some VCDs of traditional Vietnamese music and historical dramas and implores me to look at them. I do. An opening of the cover and brief scan of the language and visuals is all I am able to accomplish but it is of obvious proportion that he feels their cultural worthiness so much more than I. It's pretty old stuff. I can't imagine that he has much luck selling these to even people of his own age and even at that, not for a cent or two over whatever he paid for them. O And the bus trundles on. He explains to me how happy he is that the war is long over and that the country is now "open". The Americans and the French and god knows all sorts of countries that the Vietnamese could never have imagined are pouring money into building projects and infrastructure and education and whatnot making this man's post-war world of 73 a virtual fantasy land that Speilberg and Lucas together could not have created. The road we travel is a living breathing organism of every single day of his life rolled into one 45 minute trip and encapsulated into one blink of this man's eye as only he can see it. And I am a blind man - on the ride with my Vietnamese seeing eye dog with an eye towards the peace that all people long for far beyond the shortsighted actions of their respective governments at any one point in time. "I would have shot you forty years ago", he says, "but today we ride on a bus together. I am very happy for that", he bookends. He goes on to explain that during the war he worked in medical supply and carried medications to needy soldiers in the field. "I no ever carry gun. I no ever shoot anyone. And no anyone ever shoot me", he says, with just a hint of a wry smile - as if he could have seen this bus ride so far into what would have been his future. O He explains further that he has had ten children and that two of his daughters live in the US and two in Europe - so much pride and peace in his ideas. He goes back to the French proverb meaning "you can't take it with you" and recants it for me in impeccable French. I apologize for my miserable Francais. "But you and I, here today", he finishes, "and much money no make us better men", as he clutches the plastic bag. He looks quite softly into my eyes after I have informed him that my stop will be coming up and I must depart. "You good man", he says, "You good heart in eyes", as we shake hands in farewell. O The #4 always overshoots my actual stop, but today not at all. I know I arrived historically at just the right place and time. It's fucking perfect. O

For more on the "Perspective" or "Little Things" series, click below:

My Morning Wake-Up Call - Perspective XX: The Little Things XII
We'll Have A Gay Old Time - Perspective XIX: The Little Things XII
"Rolled Foggy Disposed Ricepaper" - Perspective XVIII: The Little Things XI

Joyeux Noel - Perspective XVII: The Little Things X

Lunch With Obama - Perspective XVI: The Little Things IX

One Motley Crue On The Bus Today - Perspective XV: The Little Things VIII

Attraction vs. Conversion: How To Power Your Blog - Perspective XIV: The Little Things VII

A glass box full of deep fried chicken heads - Perspective XIII: The Little Things VI

Seoul Searching - Perspective XII

He Would Have Shot Me 40 Years Ago - Perspective XI: The Little Things V

Chomsky on Colour & Sleep - Perspective X: The Little Things IV.2

Running With Scizzors - Perspective IX: The Little Things IV

Henry Miler II - Perspective VIII : The Little Things III.1

Henry Miller - Perspective VII: The Little Things III

Big Brother - Perspective VI: The Little Things II

This Carnival of Life! - Perspective V

The Art Walk - Perspective IV: The Little Things

Bentley #5 - Perspective III.2

Bentley vs. Vespa - Perspective III.1

Bentleys Invade Vietnam - Perspective III

Death Of A Colleague - Perspective II



  1. This story brings a smile to my face, a world away. Very cool.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the bus ride, and its fantastic that he still has positive energy and politeness despite the relative challenges of his circumstances. It may be the joy from the 10 children. But if he was a medic and did not carry a gun, how would he have shot you 40 years ago? lol

  3. Sounds fishy to me. Your bus buddy may have duped you.. The communist invaders did not have much in the way of medical supply units or uniformed soldiers 'in the field'. Actually, none. Think about it: How many trips can you make up and down the Ho Chi Minh trail with a pack of bandaids on your back? He is probably a French oriented Catholic who has been through the reeducation program, otherwise how would he speak passable English? Not that it matters. You probably told him you were a socialist rebel instead of a prosperous art director working for a huge gangster-american ad agency in Chicago.

  4. Ha. John, we never know. It was just another day and another bus. He just wanted to talk. Maybe that's why my other blog is called A Suspension of Disbeliefs. @JohnKlaw


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